Having been recommended to leave home, in April 1878, in order to
recruit my health by means which had proved serviceable before, I
decided to visit Japan, attracted less by the reputed excellence of
its climate than by the certainty that it possessed, in an especial
degree, those sources of novel and sustained interest which conduce
so essentially to the enjoyment and restoration of a solitary
health-seeker. The climate disappointed me, but, though I found
the country a study rather than a rapture, its interest exceeded my
This is not a "Book on Japan," but a narrative of travels in Japan,
and an attempt to contribute something to the sum of knowledge of
the present condition of the country, and it was not till I had
travelled for some months in the interior of the main island and in
Yezo that I decided that my materials were novel enough to render
the contribution worth making. From Nikko northwards my route was
altogether off the beaten track, and had never been traversed in
its entirety by any European. I lived among the Japanese, and saw
their mode of living, in regions unaffected by European contact.
As a lady travelling alone, and the first European lady who had
been seen in several districts through which my route lay, my
experiences differed more or less widely from those of preceding
travellers; and I am able to offer a fuller account of the
aborigines of Yezo, obtained by actual acquaintance with them, than
has hitherto been given. These are my chief reasons for offering
this volume to the public.
It was with some reluctance that I decided that it should consist
mainly of letters written on the spot to my sister and a circle of
personal friends, for this form of publication involves the
sacrifice of artistic arrangement and literary treatment, and
necessitates a certain amount of egotism; but, on the other hand,
it places the reader in the position of the traveller, and makes
him share the vicissitudes of travel, discomfort, difficulty, and
tedium, as well as novelty and enjoyment. The "beaten tracks,"
with the exception of Nikko, have been dismissed in a few
sentences, but where their features have undergone marked changes
within a few years, as in the case of Tokiyo (Yedo), they have been
sketched more or less slightly. Many important subjects are
necessarily passed over.
In Northern Japan, in the absence of all other sources of
information, I had to learn everything from the people themselves,
through an interpreter, and every fact had to be disinterred by
careful labour from amidst a mass of rubbish. The Ainos supplied
the information which is given concerning their customs, habits,
and religion; but I had an opportunity of comparing my notes with
some taken about the same time by Mr. Heinrich Von Siebold of the
Austrian Legation, and of finding a most satisfactory agreement on
Some of the Letters give a less pleasing picture of the condition
of the peasantry than the one popularly presented, and it is
possible that some readers may wish that it had been less
realistically painted; but as the scenes are strictly
representative, and I neither made them nor went in search of them,
I offer them in the interests of truth, for they illustrate the
nature of a large portion of the material with which the Japanese
Government has to work in building up the New Civilisation.
Accuracy has been my first aim, but the sources of error are many,
and it is from those who have studied Japan the most carefully, and
are the best acquainted with its difficulties, that I shall receive
the most kindly allowance if, in spite of carefulness, I have
fallen into mistakes.
The Transactions of the English and German Asiatic Societies of
Japan, and papers on special Japanese subjects, including "A Budget
of Japanese Notes," in the Japan Mail and Tokiyo Times, gave me
valuable help; and I gratefully acknowledge the assistance afforded
me in many ways by Sir Harry S. Parkes, K.C.B., and Mr. Satow of
H.B.M.'s Legation, Principal Dyer, Mr. Chamberlain of the Imperial
Naval College, Mr. F. V. Dickins, and others, whose kindly interest
in my work often encouraged me when I was disheartened by my lack
of skill; but, in justice to these and other kind friends, I am
anxious to claim and accept the fullest measure of personal
responsibility for the opinions expressed, which, whether right or
wrong, are wholly my own.
The illustrations, with the exception of three, which are by a
Japanese artist, have been engraved from sketches of my own or
I am painfully conscious of the defects of this volume, but I
venture to present it to the public in the hope that, in spite of
its demerits, it may be accepted as an honest attempt to describe
things as I saw them in Japan, on land journeys of more than 1400
Since the letters passed through the press, the beloved and only
sister to whom, in the first instance, they were written, to whose
able and careful criticism they owe much, and whose loving interest
was the inspiration alike of my travels and of my narratives of
them, has passed away.
ISABELLA L. BIRD.
First View of Japan - A Vision of Fujisan - Japanese Sampans -
"Pullman Cars" - Undignified Locomotion - Paper Money - The Drawbacks
of Japanese Travelling.
ORIENTAL HOTEL, YOKOHAMA,
Eighteen days of unintermitted rolling over "desolate rainy seas"
brought the "City of Tokio" early yesterday morning to Cape King,
and by noon we were steaming up the Gulf of Yedo, quite near the
shore. The day was soft and grey with a little faint blue sky,
and, though the coast of Japan is much more prepossessing than most
coasts, there were no startling surprises either of colour or form.
Broken wooded ridges, deeply cleft, rise from the water's edge,
gray, deep-roofed villages cluster about the mouths of the ravines,
and terraces of rice cultivation, bright with the greenness of
English lawns, run up to a great height among dark masses of upland